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Disabled need stronger voice

I woke up one morning unable to move, in strange surroundings with an oxygen mask on my face, hooked to monitors, nurses wearing masks and a priest beside my bed with a Bible in his hand mumbling.

I woke up one morning unable to move, in strange surroundings with an oxygen mask on my face, hooked to monitors, nurses wearing masks and a priest beside my bed with a Bible in his hand mumbling.

Earl Black has been a quadriplegic since he was 18 years old after a diving accident.
I asked him if I was going to die and he said, ?No.? He was right, or I wouldn?t be writing this story. This was 29 years ago at St. Joseph?s Health Centre
in Sudbury.

On a warm summer day, I broke my neck diving in a lake in Chapleau, ON. The lesson here is ?do not dive into unfamiliar water, or shallow pools,?
because you may become the victim of a diving accident. In my case, a little girl ran in front of me and I had to change the course of my dive. I had never broken a bone in my body or had been severely ill, with the exception of colds or the flu, in the past eighteen years. I was lucky to have those
healthy 18 years knowing now that many people don?t know what it is like to be in good physical shape and able-bodied.

I had a job operating a Water Treatment Plant, a sports car, motorcycle and my own apartment, which I worked hard to get. Not bad for an 18-year-old.
However, without knowing it, I woke up that morning to a different world that I wasn?t ready for and one that wasn?t ready for me.

There was no way I could go back to my job, or drive my motorcycle or car, because I was paralyzed. Confined to a wheelchair with four limbs damaged, I became a quadriplegic. Between the years of hospitalization, therapy, adjusting, and going back to school, it took me 10 years to finally get another job. A lot of hard work, determination and little luck paid off. After several contract positions, I started a full-time job at Laurentian University.

I was ready for the world after a hard 10 years. however, the world wasn?t ready for me. In spite of the Charter of Rights in 1985, an Ontario Human Rights Code in 1989, and many other government policies, our society has barely changed to accommodate persons with disabilities.

Before I woke up that morning in the hospital, I had choice, dignity and autonomy. That?s what I want back and I will never achieve it until disabled individuals have a voice in governments, its agencies and in corporations. Until the disabled are the decision-makers in their lives they will not reach equality. If we were the decision-makers over our lives, we would not need to legislate equality. Attitudes need to change!

One thing I have learned from experience is that we all need to consider ourselves what I call a TAB, a temporary able-bodied person, because you never know if you will become a victim of an injury, illness or accident that could catapult you into my world.

Earl Black is the chair of the Independent Living Resource Centre.